Value Adding: Adapting a Paper-Based Teaching Case for the WWW Environment

Pauline Hagel

Bowater School of Management and Marketing

Deakin University

Melbourne, Victoria, 3125

Flora Zulian

Bowater School of Management and Marketing

Deakin University

Melbourne, Victoria, 3125

with Judy Drennan, Darrell Mahoney and Marie Trigg


This paper reports on a project to develop a multimedia case study on Strategic Management for the World Wide Web. While predominantly text based, the case is structured to accommodate additional media. It is designed to enable students to choose their own paths through the case material. Technical features include: flexible pathways, navigation tools, links to external databases, access to decision support tools, communications and feedback capabilities. Limitations that stem from the technology are highlighted. Our evaluation indicates that learning objectives rather than technology must be the driving force in the development.

  1. Introduction

This paper describes and evaluates a project to develop a multimedia case study on the World Wide Web (WWW). The project was aimed at demonstrating and assessing the potential of the WWW environment to enhance the traditional strengths of case studies and contribute to improved learning outcomes. The case study developed for this project is designed to be used at the undergraduate level in Deakin University's Bachelor of Commerce. While it focuses on a strategic management issue, the case can be used to achieve a range of learning outcomes in different management units. The team involved in the project brought with them a balance of educational, technological and business expertise. The method used to develop the case could be applied to other business and non-business disciplines.

  1. Case Studies in learning and teaching

Case-based teaching is only one of several teaching 'architectures'; its value lies in exploiting "the basic human capacity to learn from stories" (Schank, 1994:74). Cases are used extensively for training and education in such diverse fields as law, medicine, public policy and business. Case learning enables students to acquire knowledge, develop skills and make decisions in a challenging but low-risk environment.

The case method differs from other teaching and learning strategies in several ways. Case methodology emphasises situational analysis, which includes achieving an understanding of the specific context of the case and the relevant boundaries of the issue, the inter-relationships within organisations, and the possibilities of multiple perspectives. It also combines analysis with an action orientation, requiring students to be actively involved in decision-making (Christensen, 1987). To achieve these aims, case studies must be constructed to invite student involvement, allow for multiple interpretations and require students to make educated and considered decisions about appropriate courses of action (Hagel & Macneil, 1995). Cases both develop and require cognitive flexibility: learners need to selectively use knowledge, and fit their needs of understanding and decision-making to the particular situation (Spiro, Coulson, Feltovich & Anderson, 1988).

Despite the importance of this instructional method in management education, research has revealed dissatisfaction with Australian management cases (Hagel & Macneil, 1995) and paper-based cases generally (Curtis & Gluck, 1993). Paper-based cases are constrained in their ability to evoke the complexity of organisations; they can restrict students to a linear exploration of the material and offer minimum opportunities for feedback or interaction. These limitations are at odds with what should be the distinguishing characteristics of case studies: in depth situational analysis and understanding of the context of the case; appreciation of the open boundaries of the case issues and of the inter-relationships within organisations; and examination of the issues from multiple perspectives. Attempts to overcome these failings have centred on the development of longer cases that become tedious to read, the use of supplements such as videotapes to evoke context; or the serialising of the situation into a number of separate cases.

Further limitations focus on access issues for off-campus students. Case discussions are a critical part of the case method, allowing students to test their analysis against their peers, experience multiple perspectives and give and receive feedback. Solutions mailed to students are not an adequate substitute for case discussions.

Multimedia learning materials available on the WWW have the potential to overcome many of these limitations of paper-based cases.

  1. Advantages of multimedia and the WWW for the case method

Multimedia refers to the use of two or more media to present information. However, with advances in computing, the features of non-linearity, dynamic links, interactivity, and user-control are incorporated in the concept of multimedia: Multimedia is hypertext with the addition of audio, video, graphics or animation (Tolhurst, 1995). The potential for multimedia to create learning environments lies in its ability to create rich contexts for learning, use multiple design overlays, allow user control of the pace of learning, provide flexible access and support interactivity.

Central to the case study architecture are multiple representations of information in a complex and ill structured domain; the embedding of learning materials in context has been shown to improve the transfer of knowledge (Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989). To promote learning and develop students' 'cognitive flexibility' the case must be constructed so it can be 'crisscrossed in many directions to master its complexity and to avoid having the fullness of the domain attenuated' (Spiro et al, 1988:379). The interconnected node and link structure of interactive multimedia environments have the capacity to create these rich contexts, organise and convey ill-structured knowledge for student-centred access, and provide numerous ways by which students can explore the learning materials. (Spiro & Jehng, 1990). Rather than passively turning pages, the student is actively involved in constructing knowledge (Jonassen, 1991).

Similarly, multimedia systems enable learning materials to be used in multiple ways by the design of different 'overlays' (Park and Hannafin, 1993). For example, in the design of materials for the Strategic Management unit, the design overlay may allow students to following a chronological pathway through the main story line of a company; or the student may apply frameworks common to the discipline such as a SWOT or a five-forces analysis. Alternatively, the same materials could by used to contrast decision-making styles or examine group processes.

Further, multimedia can enhance student control of the pace, direction and management of learning. Previous studies of readers of hypertext documents have shown that users are more self-directed and active than those who read linear documents (Jonassen, 1991; Kinzie & Berdel, 1990).

The WWW makes it easy for students to navigate the Internet to access and retrieve information. Further, the hypertext features incorporated in the WWW mean that different documents can be linked to others on the same server, or to documents on a different server (Elgueta, Martin & Briggs, 1995). These documents can contain information in multiple formats including plain text, hypertext, graphics, audio and video and they may be created in numerous applications from word processing to databases to spreadsheets. This environment is ideal for creating the rich contextual environments required for teaching cases. In addition, students can visit external sites for information and return to the case study with ease. This facility can be used to update the case material, particularly for industry, stock market or economic data. Students can also access a spreadsheet package to perform 'what if' calculations, a word processing package to record notes as they explore the case, or a database application to select information required in the case analysis.

The Web environment also allows students to add information to the case and share ideas with other users. A number of studies have highlighted the value of allowing users to annotate the text and conference with fellow students (Evans, 1993; Horton, 1990). Linking a WWW site to an e-mail facility can give students direct access to other users and the lecturer, while they are engaged in the learning task.

A project to develop a case study on the WWW is described below. The project makes use of the features of both multimedia and the Web environment to develop a more effective teaching case study.

  1. The Case Project

As mentioned above, belief in the use of case studies for teaching, a disenchantment with existing paper-based case study material, and an interest in multimedia were the impetuous for the development of this project. The trigger, however, was the receipt of a small grant from the Commonwealth Staff Development Fund specifically aimed at giving academics the opportunity of developing their skills in the production of materials that could be used for multi-mode delivery. The grant provided for a mentor, with technical expertise and experience in such developments, and a small amount of funding which was used for teaching release and programming assistance over a six months period, commencing July, 1995.

The project was developed in several stages over the six months of the initial grant. The team's first task was choosing the case material to be used and developing a framework in which to present the case. As the main objective of the project was to gain expertise in developing material in a different medium rather than to write a case study, the team decided to adapt existing cases on an Australian company, Pacific BBA. The framework chosen for the case materials was the strategic management process. This framework is commonly used in teaching Strategic Management. It consists of the following tasks:

Learning Objectives


Learning Strategies
Establish goals and objectives
Determine goals and objectives from information provided. Meeting with a CEO or senior manager stating an organisation's goals and objectives.

Examples of goals and objectives for comparison.
Students to identify the goals and objectives from their case study.

Students compare examples of goals and objectives to determine differences.
The distinction between goals and objectives is not always made.
8Distinguish between levels of objectives. Annual Report

Board meeting which includes managers of different business units discussing business and functional level objectives.
(Script written by us.)
Read/Listen or watch the excerpt from the board meeting.

Students asked to choose a character at the meeting and role-play response to events.
Culture, power and structure will impact on this process.
9Determine who should be involved in objective setting. Scenario where the wrong person is involved in objective setting and organisational performance is affected.

Provide students with reading on the role of boards in objective setting.
Students watch/read/listen to board meeting and predict the outcome if different objectives are adopted.

Need both a top down and bottom up approach.

Figure 1: Segment of 'The Learning Grid'

A comprehensive list of learning objectives and learning strategies was developed from this framework and incorporated into a 'learning grid' of information that became an important planning and control blueprint for the project. (See Figure 1.) The team's task was to take a number of these objectives and incorporate them into a multimedia case study.

  1. The Case Story

Having identified the learning objectives, a setting for the case was needed that would suit a multimedia environment and provide a focal point for organising the case material. The group choose a board meeting of the company as the main case setting. For the board meeting to illustrate the selected learning objectives, the case materials had to be fictionalised. The team proceeded to develop the story line, maintaining as much realism as possible by seeking information and advice from Pacific BBA. The result was a fictional company, Southern Brakes and Plastics, with its industry and competitive situation, products, financial data and strategic options based loosely on reality.

To develop the occasion of the board meeting, a strategic scenario was created, an agenda written and a cast of directors assembled. The team wrote profiles for each fictional member of the board which included each member's role on the board, personality, employment history, and strategic and personal agenda. The board meeting was play-acted by members of the academic team, recorded and a transcript produced. This transcript became the pivotal document of the case material. (Shown later in Figure 5.)

The case content includes: material on the background of the organisation such as organisation chart, mission statement and financial data; product and industry information; a situation analysis of the company; a strategic options paper prepared by the Chief Executive; profiles of the Board members; and the transcript of the Board meeting. Figure 2 illustrates the Board Meeting. Students can click on any member of the board and view their profile, briefcase and office. They can also click to access the record of the meeting. The board meeting is central to the case story: The company has a number of strategic decisions to be made which are discussed at the meeting. A traditional case approach has been used in that the student is asked to play the role of decision-maker: To make decisions and recommendations for the company, students must analyse the case data.

Figure 2: Board Meeting in Progress
  1. Site Structure

The Project team found that it was not sufficient to simply rewrite the case material. Significant redesign was required to make the material suitable for an electronic platform if the case was to be more than a page turning, paper-based facsimile. The team wanted students to enter spaces, read information and perform tasks and in so doing, experience an authentic organisation facing up to genuine issues. The learning material was grouped into 'virtual spaces' - four main headings under which all information could be logically placed. These spaces became 'rooms' in a building: the Board Room, where most of the activity would take place; the Resources Centre, containing a variety of industry and company information; the Briefing Room, where the lecturer can place instructions and tasks for students; and the Coffee Room, a place to have an informal chat with other students, listen to the conversations of employees of the firm, or leave or receive a message from their tutors. The main entry to these rooms is from the foyer: see Figure 3.

Having categorised the learning material it was then important to decide on the links between data. To ensure that data was appropriately linked it was imperative that a map be constructed. Figure 4 shows the case map for the Board Room section only. (Similar maps exist for the other rooms.) Initially, the map was an essential design tool for the team and later became an important navigational tool for students. As Park & Hannafin (1993) point out it is important to provide defined procedures for navigating in a hypertext environment to avoid confusion and disorientation. While teachers want students to have freedom to explore the site and select links and material that are relevant to the set task, without a map students may not come across some relevant material simply because they are unaware of its existence. The map has an added advantage of enabling students to bypass links by jumping directly to the material they require.

  1. Technical features of the case

The case comprises over 200 separate files accessible through the WWW. Files have been kept as small as possible to increase download speed and reduce the problems encountered in navigating large text documents as described by Comber (1995) and Martin (1995). A printable version of key files is also available. At this stage, the case uses only text and graphics. Some video and sound will be incorporated in the second stage of development. The project team is aware that downloading large graphics files can be very slow and that some browsers do not allow for graphics at all. However, as the team was not prepared to sacrifice interest for speed, graphics were used wherever required. Further, the case includes image maps that are not always accompanied by text, despite the concern raised by some that not all browsers accommodate image maps (see Comber, 1995). Our students will not find this a problem when using on-campus University facilities due to the use of a standard browser, Netscape.

Figure 3: Company Foyer

Features of the case include the following:

Flexibility. As much flexibility as possible has been added to enable the case to develop and grow over time. In fact the case can be treated as a shell consisting of the background material of a manufacturing company. Teaching staff can add more material, change the learning objectives, or direct students to specific objectives and tasks as appropriate. Students can select different pathways to browse the case. Guidelines, however, will be provided to ensure students are aware of the objectives of the exercise and the tasks to be completed. (These instructions are available in the Briefing Room).

Navigation tools. Apart from the site map (see Figure 4) icons are used to allow navigation between rooms. Navigation buttons have also been included in the record of meeting section where greater flexibility was required.

Links to external databases. A number of external links have been included, some to add interest to the case, others to enable students to gather current industry information. These are provided to add reality to the case and to enable students to 'acquire knowledge from multiple perspectives' (Park & Hannafin, 1993:75).

Access to decision support tools. It was important to incorporate tools to assist students in their analysis. With this in mind, both a notepad and a spreadsheet have been imbeded into appropriate documents. Students will be encouraged to make on-line notes and explore different alternatives using the financial data provided.

Figure 4: Section of the Case Map

Communications and feedback capabilities. Many units at Deakin University are provided both on- and off-campus. It is always a challenge for staff to provide material that will be enriching to all students. While off-campus students usually have good access to staff, their contact with their peers can be somewhat limited. The challenge for the project team was to incorporate communications facilities within the case to ensure students had access to each other. A chat facility has been included and students will be encouraged to discuss issues and solutions with their peers. The class in effect can become a 'virtual board meeting'.

Use of frames. Extensive use has been made of frames (see Figure 5). This has been particularly valuable in the Board Meeting section where students are likely to want to move between material. It will allow students to read the transcript, retrieve other data such as financial data, and when finished, move back to the appropriate section in the record of meeting without losing their place.

Glossary. A glossary of key terms referred to during the Board Meeting is available to students via a direct link from the Board Room to the Resource Centre.

Tutorials. The case is structured to allow tutorials for students who require support. When completed, students will be able to visit the Briefing Room to receive tuition in, for example, how to do a SWOT analysis, calculate financial ratios or complete a trend analysis.

  1. Use of the case

Initially, the case is being used in a laboratory situation with an undergraduate class studying Strategic Management in the Bachelor of Commerce. The case is a substitute for one of the four paper-based cases the students analyse during the course of the semester. When using the Web case, students begin by visiting the Briefing Room to see what tasks have been set. These can be changed or updated as regularly as the lecturer chooses. At the present stage of development students are limited in the tasks they can perform. Students approach the case in the same way they would a traditional paper-based case; they investigate the material, complete appropriate analysis and derive and justify recommendations for the future of the company. However, the features of a multimedia case on the WWW enables students to use the materials more flexibly and interactively. For off-campus students, the case will be used in addition to other course material.

When fully developed the case material may be used to fulfil the learning objectives of other units. For example, students studying the unit, Organisational Behaviour, could attend the Board Meeting or Coffee Room to explore group dynamics; or marketing students may be required to provide sales forecasts based on past sales performance and projections for the Company's various markets.

Figure 5: Example of use of frames
  1. Evaluation

The project described in this paper was aimed at demonstrating and assessing the potential of the WWW environment to enhance the traditional strengths of teaching cases and contribute to improved learning outcomes. However, fulfilling this potential is dependent on a number of technical, institutional and educational factors.

  1. Case Studies on the WWW

Cases must be designed to reflect complex situations and allow for 'deep' analysis and multiple interpretations. They should invite and support student involvement by the quality of the material, the methods and media of presentation, and the modes of access. The WWW offers the potential to create rich and complex case environments due to its ability to interlink different documents and sites, provide access to the Internet and accommodate different media.

Certainly, the use of CD-ROM for the delivery of interactive material has many advantages over the WWW. Use of this technology would have enabled the board meeting to be presented as a video segment; voice and graphics could have been widely used; and page design could have been controlled more easily. However, the choice of the WWW was appropriate in this case for a number of factors: Web pages are easy to develop and are cost effective; the WWW is accessible to students; and authoring tools are cheap or free and easy to download. The technological gap between the two platforms is diminishing, particularly with the arrival of Java. Further, a significant advantage of the Web for student delivery on a multi-platform site is its independence of hardware systems. Web development also matches Deakin University's mission of providing a flexible means of delivering educational materials. Both on- and off-campus students have access to computers and all have access to the Internet through Deakin Interchange.

There has been a remarkable and continuing increase in the use of the WWW. All forecasts predict continued rapid growth. However, until a broader bandwidth is introduced, the downloading of pages will continue to be slow thereby inhibiting the use of sound and video. Authoring tools and browsers also continue to change, adding to the interest and enthusiasm of developers of Web sites but, at the same time, creating a dilemma. Should developers cater for the mass browser users or should development be at the cutting edge? By choosing to use frames, our choice was clearly the latter. The expanding use of Web sites are also starting to create problems as demand for fast, reliable servers increases. Servers will become overtaxed, requiring upgrading and expansion and thus adding to the cost of maintaining the site. A very real concern is the reliability of the server itself and the network on which it relies. If either become inoperable, so does the teaching material. The cost to students of using the WWW must also be considered. Although laboratories are provided on-campus at Deakin, increasing emphasis is placed on students possessing their own equipment.

  1. Development of multimedia educational materials

Multimedia educational materials require an enormous commitment of resources by educational institutions for both the development and maintenance of the learning materials and for the necessary technological and systems infrastructure. It is the latter that is often overlooked in costing multimedia developments and few universities have the systems in place to cope with multiple delivery modes and multimedia material. Nevertheless, the economics of multimedia developments in a Web environment look promising. For example, with over 2000 students studying Deakin's first year management unit every year, the development costs of a Web case can be justified, particularly if the availability of such materials can be demonstrated to influence students' choice of study and of university. However, to promote the widespread development of multimedia educational materials, institutions must go beyond mere financial commitment. Academic promotion systems at most universities act to deter academics from becoming involved in advances in education that involve extensive development time.

  1. Educational considerations

We believe that a significant factor in the development of this project was that the case material was developed without much consideration of the technological platform to be used: The learning objectives, not the technology drove development.

However, there are some significant educational issues to be resolved relating to assessment of learning outcomes, interactivity and support structures for students. Assessing learning outcomes is always problematic with the multiplicity of factors that can influence learning and the various constraints related to delivering a curriculum. However, this assessment is critical given the significant input of resources required for multimedia developments and for the accompanying delivery infrastructure. The technology push of such developments is hard to resist and, without compelling evidence about adverse learning outcomes, such developments are likely to continue.

More specifically related to the project we have described are the issues of interactivity and support structures. The interaction in a class situation is considered critical for learning as students have the opportunity to have their understanding or actions validated by feedback from peers and the teacher. Students can adjust their actions or refocus their goals appropriately. According to Laurillard (1993) a medium cannot claim to be interactive without the information in the system changing in some way as a result of the user's actions. But, precisely how much interactivity should one incorporate into a case before the integrity of the case material is compromised? While there are ways of incorporating feedback into the case study, the complex nature of case analysis means that there is not a finite number of correct answers that can be anticipated. Of course, these limitations apply equally to paper-based cases delivered by distance learning.

A danger with hypertext based materials is that the structure becomes too complex for the student to navigate with ease (Laurillard, 1993). Some students will have difficulty in operating in an unstructured environment. If this type of material is to provide an enriching experience sufficient support to students must be given to overcome such difficulties. In the project we have described, different features have been included to try and overcome these difficulties, but again, it is not possible to predict in advance of development, all the problems students are likely to have. By incorporating an e-mail facility however, students will be able to seek help, though perhaps not in the timely fashion that is possible with face-to-face teaching.

To date, the content of the Web case has been evaluated by a student group on several criteria including the time taken on particular tasks, the interest of the case 'story', the clarity of the strategic issue and the quality of explanation of key concepts and terminology. An evaluation of how students use and experience the case will be carried out once it has been more fully developed.


The purpose of the grant that supported this project was to build the skills of academics in the production of multimedia learning materials: we have no trouble in confirming that this purpose was achieved.

Achievement of all the project objectives proves more difficult to demonstrate. Certainly, the case study produced, 'Southern Brakes and Plastics', does illustrate the potential of the WWW to create the rich context required for an effective teaching case; to encourage student involvement and control over their own learning environment; to facilitate easy up-dating of the case materials; and to support on-line communication between groups of students and students and their teacher. The educational merit of the Web case, as with any case study, is more difficult to confirm as the learning outcomes for individual students are dependent on many factors, only some of which are within the control of the designers of educational materials.


We wish to acknowledge the following people who contributed technical expertise to the project: James Briggs, Peter Evans, Ian Fox, Tim Martin, Doug Miller. The project was supported by a small grant from the Commonwealth Staff Development Fund and from the Bowater School of Management and Marketing's Case Library Project.


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P. Hagel and F Zulian, with J Drennan, D Mahoney and M Trigg (c) 1996. The authors assign to ASCILITE and educational and non-profit institutions a non-exclusive licence to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction provided that the article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The authors also grant a non-exclusive licence to ASCILITE to publish this document in full on the World Wide Web and on CD-ROM and in printed form with the ASCILITE 96 conference papers, and for the documents to be published on mirrors on the World Wide Web. Any other usage is prohibited without the express permission of the authors.